Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Post Point?

As mentioned in my last post, we have been finding many post molds but few artifacts due to our location in what appears to be an area of Late Prehistoric house construction.  But today, we had the best of both worlds; a very deep and distinct structural post AND a diagnostic projectile point together in one feature!    During most of this very hot day, the hardy crew working in unit 517N 518E were--once again--sectioning post molds.   Most of these were rather small and short, that is, typical of what we believe to be rather flimsy summer lodges.   But shortly after lunch, Marcia R. went to work on a surprisingly deep post with a very clear profile.  In fact this post was exceptionally deep for its diameter (about 10 cm), and, at first, I judged it to be a possible rodent burrow.  With not a little bit of effort, we did find the rounded bottom at about 50 cm below datum, which showed that indeed it was a post mold.   Passers-by from other units thought this was mildly amusing, as did we.  But the real surprise came when Marcia began removing the fill after drawing the profile of this post mold.  At about 39 cm b.d. she found a nearly complete, corner-notched projectile point, which looked like it had been wedged about two-thirds of the way down the post hole.  

The point is a Middle Woodland corner-notched type most similar to Snyders points found on southern Ohio Hopewell sites and in surface collections from this site.   It is a bit unusual since it was made from a single large chert flake with very fine retouching (sharpening) around the blade margin.  Does this discovery point to the remains of a Hopewell structure in this part of the site or is this just a weird accidental inclusion in a younger post mold?   I don't think this was an accident.  We know from many well-documented contexts that Ohio Hopewell peoples commonly placed such things as stones, flakes, mica fragments, pottery, etc. in post molds.  And if you are a long-term reader of this blog, you may remember our discovery in 2010 of a complete Early Woodland stemmed point in the very bottom of a large post-pit post hole.   Still, we can't say for certain.  But from now on I will think twice before giving up on a post mold that seems to be running too deep.    Who know what may be lying inside?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

House Pits and Post Molds

So far, week Two has focused on shovel-shaving, hoeing, troweling, brushing, mapping, and sectioning post molds in 3x3m units.   But, the weather has been excellent, and we are moving rapidly eastward across our excavation transect.   Our crew have become expert post mold-spotters and diligent PPM-cutters.  Nearly all the pits we have found are small basins containing few artifacts.  Although today Jamie G. found a complete drill in her Feature 12-27, a rather faint and shallow pit.

The abundance of small pits and post molds, as well as the lack of larger cooking or storage features suggests--at least to me--that we are still within an area of one or more household structures.  Past experience with Late Prehistoric dwellings in similar village sites bears this out.  I suspect these maize farmers preferred rather lightly built structures for use during the summer months with little need for storage pits inside the walls.   And outside cooking was probably the best choice during our hot and humid northern Ohio summers.   After all, during July in Ohio all you really need is a roof over your head and some thin walls to let the air in and keep the critters out.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bailing, Bone Beads, and Bioturbation

Week One got underway with a bit of a snag.  Torrential rains prior to our first day of excavation soaked the west end of our bulldozer transect and made it impossible to begin work there as planned.  Our new students did get a chance to learn the fine art of bailing water with a plastic scoop and bucket.  This tutorial repeated itself on Tuesday after another rainstorm.   So, I decided to move south

and begin the excavation of 2x2 meter units.  My original plan was not to begin this stage of our test excavations until later in the summer, but we needed dry places to dig.  My goal with this testing is to recover a statistically significant sample of the remaining portion of the site within the large area enclosed by the parallel ditch features found in 2009.   The results so far are unspectacular but not uninteresting.

In unit 486N 505E we found three very dark feature stains which looked like pit features but seemed rather fresh to me.   Once we began to cross-section the first pit, we soon found small pieces of plastic and paper.  Uh oh!   We have learned over the last three years that such debris most likely mark the former excavation of our Kent State University colleagues who preceded us in investigating the Heckelman site back in 1968.  This proved to be true as we cut into the other two features.  Yes, they had once been prehistoric pits but were probably excavated before the Beatles broke up.  And we get to dig the backfill.   This outcome was a bit disappointing for our new students, but it proved to be a good lesson in how to read a pit profile.  This is because the cross-section of one feature revealed that it still retained a bit of its original fill, as shown by the image below (the upper dark soil stratum is the recent backfill).   Even better, this bit of dirt contained a small bird bone bead.  So, all was not lost.

 After a few days of hot sunshine, we were able to begin work on our transect.   Our crew shovel-scraped, troweled, and brushed like old pros and soon we found more stockade posts, which aligned with those found last season.  We noticed that these units, which are "beyond the pale" so to speak, don't contain many features.  Just a few small pits and additional, scattered post molds.

One unit provided another example of recent digging but not by archaeologists.  As we cleaned the floor of unit 514N 503E, we found the remains of a veritable rodent rendezvous marked by many sinuous burrows and vertical tunnels, as shown below.   This was an illustration of "bioturbation" at its finest.  A suitable discovery in a week filled with disturbances, both human-made and natural.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Our Fourth Season is Underway

As usual, our fourth season of excavation at the Heckelman site began with the ceremonial "bulldozing of the transect."  Actually, this is a necessary means of removing the uninformative plow zone that covers the very informative features and post molds which have told us so much about this site over the last three years.  This year, we undertook the mechanical stripping of plow zone prior to the first day of the field school (June 14) to give us more time to prepare the site. 

One new addition this season was the setting of colored stakes to demarcate the various important structures that we have discovered.  We now have blue stakes outlining the oval enclosure, yellow stakes around Structure 2, the early Late Woodland house, and the pit house we found in 2009.  We even set out pretty pink stakes along two of the stockade lines bordering the Late Prehistoric period village settlement.  
This effort quickly proved its value today when we hosted a group of 25 teachers participating in a workshop sponsored by the Seneca County Soil and Water District.   This morning I gave an hour-long PowerPoint presentation on the Heckleman site to these same teachers in Attica, Ohio.   During the site tour, I think the staked outlines really helped illustrate the significance of what we have found so far.  At least they "prettyed-up" the site somewhat.